5 Reasons I Hate Listicles Part Two: Was I wrong about #1?

 

 In a recent post I gave five reasons why I don’t like listicles. The first reason was that just getting attention could be counter-productive. “I would rather write a piece that had 50,000 views and 50% of readers liked it, than a piece that had a million views but only 1% liked it,” I wrote in the piece.

Several people contacted me to tell me that the more views, the more revenue. If we know that we can get a 1% conversion rate, it stands to reason that the more overall views generated, the more people that 1% audience response represents. So, more eyeballs means more profit.Or does it?

However, there is a flaw in that argument. It only focuses on the 1% who respond. What about the 99% who don’t? If the assumption that the other 99% don’t care is actually true, that’s one thing, but suppose 3% get really angry and frustrated at being led to click on a silly article that promises more than it can possibly deliver? Then getting a huge response, might actually turn out to be a negative.

What drives a behavioral response is the emotional response. Now, I will agree this could be more of a problem with some clickbait rather than a listicle. For example, if the headline bait mentions a celebrity but then the story has nothing to do with him or her, readers are likely to feel cheated and angry. For example, the lead might have a photo of Colin Kaepernick but the story has nothing to do with him but is about a steroid cream that turned Humpty Dumpty into the Jolly Green Giant. If you’re going to use a celebrity at least make the piece relevant and authentic. For example, check out my latest blog, First Down and Ten Commandments: What GOD thinks about the NFL.

 My point is that there are assumptions made about audience response that don’t include annoying, and thus negatively influencing, the vast percentage of the people that view the piece. Frustration and anger, I suspect, are common responses to intrusive ads.

Let’s take a common scenario — you’re on a roll trying to make it into the top hundred of the rankings of a Slots game, e.g. Double Diamond. You’re currently ranked 159,344 so there’s a long way to go. Suddenly, you are interrupted by an ad for another slots game, which you’re never going to get because you have already invested several months of your life trying to move up the rankings of the current game. The pop up ad is a distraction, activating the brain’s Default Mode Network and stimulating the Limbic System. As a result, you shout an expletive and decide you’re never, ever going to buy a game from that company.

Of course, the world is full of examples of people who reneged on their promise to never, ever do X again, so perhaps a temporary emotional outburst is irrelevant.

However, in a SproutSocial survey1 58 per cent felt of respondents said they felt annoyed by brands posting too many promotions on their social media accounts, 46 per cent said they are likely to unfollow brands if they post too many promotions and 41 per cent said they would unlike or unfollow a brand on social media if they do not post relevant content.

However, the argument from any company might be, “We’re not trying to sell to everybody, 1% will be just fine, thank you. We don’t care what the other 99% think of us.”

I guess it depends on how much the other 99%, especially the 41% of temporarily annoyed users, might influence “brand perception.”

Any thoughts?

  1. Referenced at http://engagecustomer.com/brands-alienating-consumers-social-media-blunders/

Communication, Conformity and Memory

The binary brain and the misrepresentation of psychological research

The brain likes simplicity, or at least most of us aren’t prepared to do the hard work of critical thinking, research and analysis that is possible with a human brain. It’s a whole lot easier to rely on first impressions, simplistic perceptions, unreliable memories of both yourself and others. They can fuel a narrative that is emotionally comfortable and even psychologically satisfying. This happens in every area of life. As a result misinformation abounds. This is particularly troubling when “research” is hijacked, creating urban legends about everything from physiological processes to human behavior.

For example, you may have heard that 93% of all communication is non-verbal. While intuitively we might assume that such factors as gestures and tone shape our perception of a communication, most of us had no idea that almost all of communication is non-verbal.

It isn’t.

The statistic comes from work conducted by Albert Mehrabian. In this research, a person spoke just one word and subjects had to judge his communication. Hardly surprisingly, most people took their cues from tone or body language because let’s face it, there’s not much communication value in one word. So when a person just utters one word, most of the perception about the communication is non-verbal. Duh! The research, however, has been taken completely out of context and the findings generalized to all communication — which typically involves a whole lot more than one word. So 93% of all communication is not non-verbal, unless you’re using sign language, and even then you could argue that there is some serious verbal processing occurring in the “listener.”

Another area of confusion comes from Solomon Asch’s work on conformity. In his research, subjects were effectively asked to match one of three lines with another. The matching line wasn’t difficult to determine at all. The wrinkle in this experiment, or the part of it that’s quoted the most, involved fake subjects who chose the obviously wrong line. The real subjects, who didn’t know it was a set-up, made their judgments after hearing the other fake subjects give the wrong answer. Would they be influenced by listening to other people’s obviously wrong choices? Would they feel pressure to conform? YES! Everyone was swayed and gave the wrong answer showing the enormous power of conformity. Well, that’s not quite true. Actually, a majority of people weren’t swayed at all. 36% of people seemed to have been influenced, or at the very least gave the wrong answer. It’s a significant number but our simplistic binary brains hear this study and perceives and remembers it as convincing proof that most people are influenced to conform and that’s not what the study’s data show. One could certainly imagine some situations where there was a greater pressure to conform and more people would go along with the narrative they were presented with, but that’s not what this particular study shows.

How about a statistic from a memory experiment? Elizabeth Loftus has done a lot of research into memory, showing that it can be an unreliable and dynamic process influenced by many factors. In one study she attempted to implant a false childhood memory of being lost in a mall into her subjects. That she succeeded is noteworthy and made headlines. However, the vast majority of subjects — 75% to be precise — didn’t accept the memory. Loftus herself talks about the “fiction of memory.” However, what we are witnessing is the binary brain once again rising is two-sided head. While Loftus and others have shown that memories can be implanted, it doesn’t mean that all memory is a fiction and that all memories are false. Memory is a reconstruction and subject to bias and distortion, which can lead to inaccuracies.

I could write a thick book using such examples but hopefully you get my point. We like to see the world as black and white certainties rather than flexible probabilities and categorize our experiences as well as our ideas and beliefs accordingly. That’s one reason why knowing how to think critically and having the discipline and mindfulness to do it maybe the most important life skills to develop.